Low-key toddler activities for when you need a break
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I wrote this post about toddler activities at home back in 2012 when I was pregnant with my second child, feeling miserable and figuring out how to best entertain my toddler. Some of these activities we still enjoy and use even now! These low-key toddler activities will help you stay sane and maybe even allow you a bit of downtime.
My kiddo has lots of energy. She has a lot more energy than I do. This is especially true when I’m not feeling well or didn’t get enough sleep or whatever. I totally admit there are times when letting her watch an extra episode of Doc McStuffins, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Jake and the Neverland Pirates is easier because I’m tired or have things to do.
I’m not a fan of that. I don’t have a problem with her watching some age-appropriate television. She’s learned many things, in fact, but I certainly don’t want to just park her in front of the television on days I’m not feeling well.
Combining that thought with my love for lists and I decided to make a list for myself of low-key activities that don’t require much energy from me, would be fun for her, would maybe be educational for her and would be a great way to spend time together. I had a few ideas. Then I turned to some mom friends online and got some even better ideas. These ladies are seriously creative and smart.
These low-key toddler activities at home are perfect for times when you’re exhausted or sick or you can’t go outside and play. The best part is most are cheap or free and none of them require much more from mom than to sit or lie down. (I’ve included links for products to show you some of our favorites, but you can easily work with what you have!)
Low-key toddler activities at home
1. Coloring with crayons and coloring book pages. Check out this 13-piece set from Crayola that has crayons and 12 toddler coloring books. Or you can print free coloring pages from a variety of web sites.
2. Coloring with Color Wonder markers. I love these because your kiddos get to use markers without possibly making a mess. The markers only mark on the special Color Wonder paper. Clearly this was invented by the parent of a toddler! This Nursery Rhyme Color Wonder set is a great starting place.
3. Blowing bubbles. We do bubbles outside together with a bubble machine, but I also blow bubbles inside for her.
4. Playing dollhouse. If you don’t have a dollhouse, then find another kind of pretend play with toys like Fisher-Price Little People, stuffed animals or whatever you have around.
5. Playing with busy bags. If you aren’t familiar with busy bags and you have a toddler, you need to be! These are awesome and portable ideas to keeps toddlers entertained and learning. I’ve done two exchanges of busy bags with other moms and they are some of my kiddo’s favorite things to play with. Go to Pinterest and search for “toddler busy bags” for all sorts of great ideas. Even as a non-crafty mom, I found quite a few that would work!
6. Doing puzzles. We’ve found our favorite puzzles at the Dollar Tree. Right now 24-piece puzzles work best for my kiddo.
7. Having a pretend picnic. Spread out a blanket, invite stuffed animals and chow down on pretend food (plastic or imaginary).
8. Playing with a baking sheet and magnets. Before vacation, I read that a baking sheet with magnets is good car entertainment. My kiddo loved playing with it more once we got there. I have magnets saved back specifically for the baking sheet. An added bonus of using alphabet and number magnets is it’s teaching her as well. Animal magnets are also fun for her. (Look for magnets with a full magnetic backing instead of small magnetics attached to avoid a potential choking hazard.)
9. Reading books. We love reading books together. Not only is reading to my daughter good for her brain and language development, it’s also great snuggle time! (Don’t miss this list of more than 100 children’s books worth reading!)
10. Playing with Princess Dominoes. Any dominoes work. We happen to have the Disney Princess ones. Sometimes we match up the princesses in a row like a domino game and every so often, we use them like building blocks.
11. Playing with Play-Doh. Play-Doh can be a bit messy, but if you are sitting with your kiddo and playing that helps keep the mess down. I also use Glad Press-n-Seal on the table (tape it down if it doesn’t stick well) for my kiddo to play on. It makes for easier clean up. Whether you use a Play-Doh set or just dough, it’s a fun activity that lets you sit down.
12. Building things with Legos or other building blocks. Right now this means making towers or rudimentary shapes; we’re not building fancy Lego models of any sort.
13. Drawing on her magnetic drawing board. Surprisingly, my daughter is impressed with my stick figures when she asks me to draw things like our family. I also use the magnetic drawing board to show her what her name looks like. She’ll often ask me to write other names. She now knows the first two letters of her name as a result. Of course, she also draws on it herself.
14. Cutting paper with safety scissors. I just bought some safety scissors for the kiddo along with a pad of construction paper. She’s not super great at cutting just yet, but she loved the idea of it. We laid on the living room floor for a good 45 minutes alternating between cutting the construction paper and drawing on it.
15. Playing under a blanket. Sometimes I sit on the floor and put a blanket over our heads. This tickles my toddler. It’s like we have our own clubhouse. Sometimes it turns into peek-a-boo, and sometimes we just play under there. She loves it. It tickles her even more when the dog joins us under the blanket.
Even more low-key toddler activities at home
16. Fill a dishpan with dry beans and give the kiddo cupcake pans, spoons, measuring cups, plastic Easter eggs, etc., to move the beans around. It’s not totally clean (you will have some beans on the floor), but it’s not bad and will keep the kiddo entertained for a while.
17. Playing with stickers. Buy some stickers, peel off the sticky part that surrounds the stickers (to make them easier for little fingers to remove) and give the kiddo a sheet of paper. Just keep an eye on your toddler to make sure the stickers go on the paper and not themselves, their baby brother or all over your house!
18. Playing with baby dolls. Pretend play is always a good thing. If you don’t have baby dolls or if you have a boy, then find something else similar to play with that you can take care of together. Playing house/real life is a great toddler activity!
19. Having a tea party. You don’t even have to serve real beverages or snacks (though you totally can). Just sit together and pretend to have a tea party or snack time.
20. Brushing the dog. The kiddo does like to help with this. The dog isn’t quite as sure, but he loves the treat she gives him afterward!
21. Painting finger or toenails. My kiddo isn’t allowed to have paint on her fingernails until she totally stops putting her thumb in her mouth (feel free to judge me), but I’m thinking of trying her toenails this summer.
22. Playing “beauty parlor.” Let the kiddo brush your hair, put clips in it, etc. You can do funny hairstyles for her, put makeup on her, etc. (My curly hair is a bit nervous about the potential tangles on this one, but I already do this a bit.)
23. Make sun prints. Use sunscreen to paint on a piece of dark colored construction paper, then put in the sun to dry for a few hours. The sunscreen will keep the paper from fading, but the areas without sunscreen will fade.
24. Playing nap for mommy. The kiddo came up with this game on her own a month or so ago. Now a couple of times a week she will pretend to tuck me in, give me a doll or stuffed animal to sleep with and want me to be quiet. She tells me to let her know if I need anything, so I have to pretend to need drinks of water every so often. It’s a pretty nice gig that she actually enjoys!
25. Playing doctor with a doctor’s kit. This happens all the time around here. If your toddler isn’t into doctor’s kits, you might let him/her watch an episode or two of Doc McStuffins. Sitting for a checkup is pretty easy, even when you’re not feeling well. My daughter also loves for us to hold her toys while she examines them.
26. Playing with tools. A friend lets her kids bring in a ride-on toy then they turn it upside down and sit on the floor with their play tools pretending to fix it. Pretty much any relatively large toy could use some sort of repair with a play toolkit! Plus many toddler toolkits come with things to work on as well.
27. Playing with paper or magnet dress-up dolls. Paper dolls can be a bit more fragile, so use your best judgment for them. We love magnetic dress-up dolls!
28. Playing with Mr. Potato Head. Sometimes a classic is a classic for a reason. Mr. and/or Mrs. Potato Head are fun toddler activities!
29. Playing with puppets. Whether you have hand puppets or finger puppets, you can have fun with them. We don’t get fancy or carried away with puppets. We just sit together and have our puppets interact with each other. Easy and fun!
30. Playing with a reusable sticker pad. The great thing about reusable sticker pads is that sticker fun continues for more than a few minutes. And you don’t have to worry about stickers getting put other places that are hard to remove.
Bonus tips for playing at home with toddlers
Consider heading to a local teacher supply store or learning tools store for great ideas. For example, a friend of mine found some awesome wipe-off boards and books with dry-erase crayons
And, finally, just change the scenery and play in different rooms in the house. One of my kiddo’s favorite places to play is our long bedroom hallway. Sometimes we go there to play and shake up our routine so we aren’t always playing in the living room.